‘Earth-Like’ Planets & Sharks | SciByte 109

‘Earth-Like’ Planets & Sharks | SciByte 109

We take a look at counting Earth-like planets, what musical training does for your brain, the Olympic torch, viewer feedback about sharks, a spacecraft update on India’s Mars Orbiter Mission, Curiosity news, and as always take a peek back into history and up in the sky this week.

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How Common Are \’Earth-Like\’ Planets?

  • Astronomers have analyzed all four years of Kepler data in search of Earth-size planets in the habitable zones of sun-like stars
  • Based on the analysis, they estimate that 22 percent of stars like the sun have potentially habitable Earth-size planets, though not all may be rocky or have liquid water
  • Kepler Space Telescope
  • Launched in 2009 its mission was to look for planets around other stars by looking for a \’dip\’ in the brightness of a star, about one hundredth of one percent, indicating that something was passing in front of it
  • After 3 consecutive dips in light from the star it is labeled a exoplanet candidate
  • About 150,000 stars were photographed every 30 minutes for four years leading to the current reported number of more than 3,000 planet candidates
  • Kepler had to be pointed with such precision in order to find these planets that it would be like steadily looking at a grain of salt from a 0.4 km [1/4 mi] away
  • The Keck Telescopes in Hawaii helps astronomers to determine each star\’s true brightness and calculate the diameter of each transiting planet, with an emphasis on Earth-diameter planets.
  • \”Habitability\”
  • The team\’s defined habitable as a planet that receives between four times and one-quarter the amount of light that Earth receives from the sun
  • Earth-size planets in Earth-size orbits are not necessarily hospitable to life, even if they orbit in the habitable zone of a star where the temperature is not too hot and not too cold
  • Some of those planets may have thick atmospheres, making it so hot at the surface that DNA-like molecules would not survive
  • A habitable planet would have a rocky surfaces that could harbor liquid water suitable for living organisms
  • Narrowing Down The Data
  • The team focused on the 42,000 stars that are \’sun-like\’ and found 603 candidate planets orbiting them
  • Of those only 10 were Earth-size, that is, one to two times the diameter of Earth and orbiting their star at a distance where they are heated to lukewarm temperatures suitable for life
  • Extrapolating
  • All of the potentially habitable planets found in their survey are around K stars, which are cooler and slightly smaller than the sun although analysis shows that the result for K stars can be extrapolated to G stars like the sun
  • In order to get a better idea of the number of stars with planets around them you have to account for missed planets, as well as the fact that only a small fraction of planets are oriented so that they cross in front of their host star as seen from Earth
  • Adding in those numbers led them to believe that roughly 22 percent of all sun-like stars in the galaxy have Earth-size planets in their habitable zones.
  • The astronomers in this study defined sun-like stars to be of two class types, Class G (like our sun) and Class K
  • Class G and K stars make up roughly 19.5% of all stars, 22% of those stars gives 4.3% of ALL stars have potentially habitable Earth-size planets. (1 out of 25)
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube | One in Five Sun-Like Stars Have \’Goldilocks\’ Planets | VideoFromSpace
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Prevalence of Earth-size planets orbiting Sun-like stars | Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
  • Astronomers answer key question: How common are habitable planets? | Phys.org


Musical Training and the Brain

  • Older adults who took music lessons as children but haven\’t actively played an instrument in decades have a faster brain response to a speech sound than individuals who never played an instrument
  • The Brains Response Time
  • As people grow older, they often experience changes in the brain that compromise hearing and show a slower response to fast-changing sounds, which is important for interpreting speech
  • Previous studies have show such age-related declines are not inevitable, in fact recent studies of musicians suggest lifelong musical training may offset these and other cognitive declines
  • The Study
  • This recent study, explored whether limited musical training early in life is associated with changes in the way the brain responds to sound decades later
  • For the study, 44 healthy adults, ages 55-76, listened to a synthesized speech syllable (\”da\”) while researchers measured electrical activity in the auditory brainstem
  • The brainstem is the region of the brain processes sound and is a hub for cognitive, sensory, and reward information
  • Results
  • The results showed that the more years study participants spent playing instruments as youth, the faster their brains responded to a speech sound.
  • In fact none of the study participants had played an instrument in nearly 40 years, so it wasn\’t simply a recent or \’maintenance\’ result
  • Participants who completed 4-14 years of music training early in life had the fastest response to the speech sound (on the order of a millisecond faster than those without music training).
  • A millisecond faster may not seem like much, but the brain is very sensitive to timing and a millisecond compounded over millions of neurons can make a real difference
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Just a few years of early musical training benefits the brain later in life | MedicalXPress.com


Olympic Torch in Space

  • The Olympic Torch was taken on a space walk for the first time on Nov 9, 2013
  • Russian officials made it clear that the torch would remain unlit at all times for safety reasons.
  • The Olympic torch was carried into space ahead of the 1996 and 2000 Olympics in Atlanta and Sydney but has never before been taken on a spacewalk
  • In an usual situation, when the new crew arrived there were nine crew members and three Soyuz vehicles at the ISS, there have not been nine crew members on the ISS since 2009.
  • The new crew brought the unlit torch along, then the space station’s current crew, took the torch out on a spacewalk, the three returning crew members brought the torch back to Earth
  • The real reason for the spacewalk is to do some routine Russian maintenance outside the station
  • The torch was given back to Olympic officials and it will be used in the opening ceremonies of the February games
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube | Raw: Spacewalkers Hand Off Olympic Torch | AssociatedPress
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Russia launches Sochi Olympic torch into space | Phys.org
  • Crew Launches to Space Station with Olympic Torch | UniverseToday.com


New Shark Species

  • Michael Thalleen ‏@ThalleenM
  • Two new shark species have been discovered
  • Carolina Hammerhead
  • Rare New Species of Carolina Hammerhead Shark Discovered | ScienceWorldReport.com
  • Scientists have now announced that they\’ve discovered a new species of rare shark, the Carolina hammerhead
  • The Carolina hammerhead has long eluded discovery due to the fact that it is outwardly indistinguishable from the common scalloped hammerhead
  • The new species, named Sphyrna gilberti, was actually discovered as scientists were looking for more common hammerheads.
  • South Carolina is a well-known pupping ground for several species of sharks, which means that researchers were collecting samples there for study
  • The scalloped hammerheads that they were collecting had two different genetic signatures in both the mitochondrial and nuclear genomes
  • The scientists found that the anomalous scalloped hammerhead had been described in 1967 and had 10 fewer vertebrae than the normal scalloped hammerhead. Intrigued
  • In the end, the scientists found that there was genetic evidence to show that this hammerhead was, in fact, a new species.
  • At this point scientists aren\’t sure exactly how many individuals still exist in the wild
  • \’Walking\’ Shark
  • New \’Walking\’ Shark Species Caught on Video | LiveScience
  • YouTube | New species of \”walking\” shark found in Indonesia – Conservation International (CI) – 2013 | ConservationDotOrg
  • A new species of \”walking\” shark has been discovered in a reef off a remote Indonesian island
  • Hemiscyllium halmahera, named after the eastern Indonesian island of Halmahera where it was found
  • These sharks don\’t always rely on \”walking\” to move about — often, they only appear to touch the seafloor as they swim using their pectoral and pelvic fins in a walk like gait
  • The shark grows up to 70 cm [27 in] long and is harmless to humans
  • The animals lay eggs under coral ledges, after which the young sharks lead relatively sedentary lives until adulthood
  • These sharks do not cross areas of deep water and are found in isolated reefs


India’s Mars Orbiter Mission

  • Last time on SciByte
  • SciByte 107 | Dinosaurs & Satellites (October 29, 2013)
  • The Trip to Mars
  • India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) safely injected into its initial elliptical Earth parking orbit on Nov. 5
  • India’s PSLV rocket is not powerful enough to send MOM on a direct flight to Mars
  • ISRO’s engineers devised a procedure to get the spacecraft to Mars on the least amount of fuel via six “Midnight Maneuver” engine burns over several weeks – and at an extremely low cost
  • The goal is to gradually maneuver MOM – India’s 1st mission to the Red Planet – into a hyperbolic trajectory so that the spacecraft will
  • The spacecraft was initial in an elliptical orbit around Earth, it then proceeds to fire its engines when it is at its closest point in orbit above Earth.
  • This maneuver increases the ship\’s velocity and gradually widens the ellipse eventually raising the apogee of the six resulting elliptical orbits around Earth that eventually injects MOM onto the Trans-Mars trajectory
  • They expected to achieve escape velocity on Dec. 1 and depart Earth’s sphere of influence tangentially to Earth’s orbit to begin the 300 day (10 month) voyage to Mars
  • Estimates are that it will arrive in the vicinity of Mars on September 24, 2014
  • Small Glitch
  • During a fourth repositioning, on Mon Nov 11, that was to take it 100,000 kilometres (62,000 miles) from Earth, the thruster engines briefly failed, leading the autopilot to take over.
  • The supplemental burn on Nov 12 successfully raised it to the proper orbit
  • The Other Mars Mission
  • NASA\’s MAVEN orbiter remains on target to launch on Nov. 18 – from Cape Canaveral, Florida
  • It\’s goal is to \”Study the Martian atmosphere , unlock the mysteries of its current atmosphere and determine how, why and when the atmosphere and liquid water was lost\”
  • Both Mission Goals
  • The main aim of MOM is to detect methane in the Martian atmosphere, which could provide evidence of some sort of life form
  • Both MAVEN and MOM’s goal are to study the Martian atmosphere
  • MOM science teams have said they will “work together” with NASA\’s MAVEN team to unlock the secrets of Mars atmosphere and climate history
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube | Mars Mission Isro successfully completes first midnight manoeuver | rajnews41
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Indian Mars mission on track, makes first engine burns | Phys.org
  • India\’s Mars Orbiter Mission Rising to Red Planet – Glorious Launch Gallery | UniverseToday.com
  • Indian Mars mission suffers glitch but \’no setback\’ | Phys.org


  • Warm Reset
  • NASA\’s Mars rover Curiosity experienced an unexpected software reboot (also known as a warm reset) on the 7th
  • During a communications pass as it was sending engineering and science data to the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, for later downlinking to Earth
  • occurred about four-and-half hours after new flight software had been temporarily loaded into the rover\’s memory
  • At the time the event occurred, Curiosity was in the middle of a scheduled, week-long flight software update and checkout activity
  • A warm reset is executed by flight software when it identifies a problem with one of its operations
  • The reset restarts the flight software into its initial state. Since the reset, the rover has been performing operations and communications as expected
  • This is the first time that Curiosity has executed a fault-related warm reset during its 16-plus months of Mars surface operations
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube Curiosity Rover Report JPLnews
  • Image Galleries at JPL and Curiosity Mulimedia
  • Social Media
  • Curiosity Rover @MarsCuriosity
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Mars Science Laboratory: Curiosity Performs Warm Reset | mars.jpl.nasa.gov


Looking back

  • Nov 16, 1972 : 41 years ago : Skylab III : Skylab III, carrying a crew of three astronauts, was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on an 84-day mission that remained the longest American space flight for over two decades (until Norm Thagard broke it aboard Mir in 1995 and Shannon Lucid, Feb 2002-Sep 2003). The Skylab III crew, Gerald P. Carr, William R. Pogue and Edward C. Gibson, maintained their physical condition by walking treadmills and riding an on-board stationary bicycle. Among the thousands of experiments conducted during this flight, the astronauts took four space walks, including one on Christmas Day to observe the comet Kohoutek. After 1214 orbits, the crew returned to Earth, splashing down on 8 Feb 1974. Skylab 3 | Wikipedia

Looking up this week

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